Norman Eason

Norman Eason, founder UK IAM, was not only an information systems innovator but a business strategist. Great combination!

We are now serialising Norman Eason’s major work “Maintenance and Asset Management Systems” and chapters 1-3 are already available.  Don’t miss this. 

I first met Norman in 1996 and later interviewed him for Strategic Asset Management when he visited Australia in 2000. In 2002, he came to Heathrow airport to see me off and gave me the manuscript of this work to edit and use ‘as I saw fit’.  I felt enormously privileged to be entrusted with this work. So I did a light edit and in 2004 I published it, serial fashion, with side annotations, a chapter a week on my original website. 

In the twenty years that then passed, that website was closed and I lost the original. It was only after he died, and thanks to my friends, Geoff Webb, who had printed out the entire thing as it was being published and sent me his hard copy, and Kerry McGovern, who patiently scanned the whole thing for me, that I again have a copy that I can share with the Asset Management Community.

Re-reading this work now makes me even more appreciative of Norman’s insight. For example, even some 30 years ago, when many were still thinking that asset management was simply ‘maintenance plus’ he was urging his readers to consider that: 

‘movement from a traditional maintenance operation to asset management will take much more than the procurement of an asset management information system; it requires a fundamental change in culture that could take years to achieve. Indeed, the procurement of an asset management information system by a traditional maintenance operation without an accompanying change in culture could have a negative, rather than a positive, effect on the organisation’. 

This is a message which is as relevant today as it was then. So don’t miss our serialisation of Norman’s work. It seems appropriate that after 20 years, we again make this available – and in the original web format.  So enjoy!  

Chapters 1-3 are available now.

In the dark?

Don’t be!  Today we start a new serialisation of “Maintenance and Asset Management Information Systems” by Norman Eason, founder of the UK Institute of Asset Management whose ideas are as useful now as when he wrote them when Asset Management was at its beginning.

See Chapters 1-3 Here.

Norman Eason died two years ago today, February 24th.  Not only was he the founder and first president of the UK Institute of Asset Management, he was the most innovative thinker of his time on the subject of information systems. He was one of the earliest to apply computer technology to maintenance and his Rapier system won a European Award in the early ’90s.

When he realised that companies were buying computerised maintenance systems without having a maintenance strategy and without linking their information requirements to their business, he decided it was time to address this serious issue, which led to his lobbying and the founding of the IAM in the UK in 1995 of which he was their first President.

It also led to his writing one of the most interesting books on maintenance and asset management information systems you will ever read.  

In 2002 he gave me the manuscript of this work and asked me to do with it whatever I could as he now wished to spend his time in his garden. So I lightly edited it and, in 2004, I serialised it on the amqi.com website but did not keep it permanently available in case he should change his mind and decide to have it professionally edited and published. But he never did. Which is a pity since it is such a valuable work.

It was his view that the reason for procurement of an information system for maintenance or asset management is to make use of the information that it accrues. Pretty basic, but there are signs that some have forgotten what should be obvious

“The system should be a fundamental part of the Data to Wisdom Ladder – Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom – and the choice of the system will determine its effectiveness. Without an awareness of how data and information interact and how best they can be managed, no system will be effective. Chapter 3 addresses this subject and also introduces the concept of data as an asset, whereby users of information systems are encouraged to view data (and information) as valuable company assets that should be managed in a similar way to all other corporately important assets” 

Read the first three chapters now.

Growing an Idea

Note: Print copies of The Story of Asset Management are available, go here and choose the direct Amazon link for your location. (and my thanks to Matthew Hughes who drew my attention to the fact that this was not at all obvious.)

A writer for the Guardian described ‘The Story of Asset Management’  as the ‘inside story of a major change’.  She said:  “While discussions about government reforms make take centre stage, the behind-the-scenes processes of problem-solving and innovation remain less documented”  and this is very true.

I am grateful to her for this insight, for it tells me that this story of how AM grew, can also be used as a rough guide to growing any idea.   I can’t say that I knew this at the beginning, but looking back, I think that there are three keys to growing an idea. 1. You have to be fully committed to your idea which doesn’t mean knowing exactly how to do it, but rather having, and believing in, a direction you want to move in. 2. You can’t expect others to do the work, you have to be prepared to do much of it yourself. 3. But while you are doing this, you must actively share the excitement, fun – and the credit – as widely as you possibly can. 

As you read the many anecdotes in this story I would be interested to hear from you whether you believe this to be true. I hope you enjoy the story, simply as a story, our story.  But I would be very pleased if you were able to use it fo further an idea of your own, either in asset management or elsewhere.

Penny

The Uncertainty in Evolution

Thanks to my brother Bill Wallsgrove, yet more weird AI generated images

“What’s the first step to a good Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP)? A bad SAMP…”

My ex-colleague Ark Wingrove’s saying has resonated with clients since he first coined it.  You do not have to wait for perfection; the important thing is to start, knowing you can improve as you go.

It works not just because it’s true. Just having someone tell you you won’t get everything in Asset Management perfect first time liberates us to try. Otherwise – and this surely tells us something about the asset culture we pick up, and need to change – we get frozen in the headlights of needing to be right.

It’s a profound truth of AM that you will never know enough about the future; and yet you still have to have a strategy, you still have to plan, you still have to make decisions that matter. And so inevitably we will get some important things wrong.

The approach that the AM documents and processes we produce are all iterative is, of course, built into the diagrams, the 6 Box Model and the flow of ISO 55000, continuous improvement and the ’learning loop’ of Plan-Do-Check-Adapt. The idea that, above all, we can’t leap straight from muddle to highly sophisticated Asset Management Planning has long been recognised in Australasia. We have to build, step by step, our planning evolving with our increasing understanding.

But it just struck me that it’s not simply how we improve things as we know more. The real blocks are thinking we know more than we do at the start, and the fear that we will be exposed for not knowing enough – the toxic aspects of being an expert. 

Years ago Penny Burns came in to take my Sydney team through scenario planning. The real achievement of this was to move everyone away from their confidence.  From believing they could ever be certain about the future.

In an exercise around understanding our levels of uncertainty in risk training this week, someone asked – tongue in cheek – how we could ‘win’.*

The urge to be right is natural, I guess, but it also goes with all sorts of baggage. That we won’t even start unless we can be certain. That it is better not to try than to run the risk of being wrong. 

As though, for example, a strategy for Asset Management is a test we have to pass.

The principle of evolving, getting better as we go but never reaching 100% certainty. What examples of positively ‘embracing uncertainty’ have you seen in practice?

*Calibration training based partly on the work of Douglas Hubbard, see his The Failure of Risk Management. If you have never come across this, aiming to show off that you’re right that will ensure you don’t get it right. (And even telling people this doesn’t help them, at least the first time around.)

2023 Blast Off!

With the beginning of a new year, most of us are thinking about what we plan to do in 2023 – we consider our aims, objectives, goals and targets.

I am reminded of a conversation, some years ago, between Françoise Szigeti, who was then Vice President, International Centre for Facilities, Ottawa, Canada and Helen Tippett, then Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Science, Victoria University, New Zealand.

Françoise observed that the same words tended to be used to convey totally different meanings, and Helen came up with the following that she uses to help her students keep the meanings straight.

  • “You AIM for the stars.
  • Your OBJECTIVE is to land on the moon.
  • Your GOAL is to build a rocket with enough fuel to get you there at an affordable cost.
  • Your TARGET is be ready to launch in two years.”

Got It?

Clichés are Assumptions- and, unchecked, Dangerous!

Yes, it may be frantic now as we try to finish up all those things we promised we would have done ‘by the end of the year’, but soon it will be Christmas and, hopefully, we can relax and catch up on reading more, as we also promised ourselves, but didn’t get done.

If this sounds like you, may I recommend a book that will have you laughing as well as learning? In “Corporate Punishment”, James Adonis, takes apart 38 of the most common – and most annoying – business clichés, such as ’employees are our greatest asset’, ‘think outside the box’, ‘pick the low hanging fruit’, and the ever-present but abysmally misleading ‘what gets measured, gets done’. At the very least, you will avoid the embarrassment of using them yourself.

The cleverness of the cover illustration encouraged me to pick this up and start reading and after that, the author kept me going until the very last page. I don’t know about you, but it is the rare book I read right through to the end nowadays, so this is a rare recommendation.

AM Clichés?

Reading these general business clichés reminded me that we have our own in asset management – perhaps the leading one being ‘there are no votes in maintenance’. If there were a book of AM Clichés, what clichés would you suggest should be included?

Better Questions

Abstracts are Answers in search of Questions. Thanks to Fiona Art for this one.

What is a better question?

The tag line for Talking Infrastructure is ‘generating better questions’.  Ruth’s brilliant last post reminded me that I had never defined a ‘better’ question.  So let’s do that.  

Very briefly, a ‘better’ question is one where the answer creates new information, or in the words of Michael Port (Heroic Pubic Speaking) it’s a question that Google can’t answer!  

More than that, it generates new capability, allowing us to do new things, or old things in a better way.

Are these ‘better’ questions?

The first volume of our story of Asset Management, ‘Asset Management as a Quest’ consists of a search for the answers to the following series of questions.    (You can read Part One of this volume – and our search for answers to the first two of these questions – here)

1: How much does it cost South Australians to get their water services? 

2: What is the likely cost and timing of renewing water assets? 

3: What is the cost and timing of renewal for all state infrastructure: Public Housing, Hospitals, Schools and Colleges, Highways,Transit, Power and Water?

4: What can be done to contain costs? 

5: How do we instill an AM mindset? 

6: How do we spread the word about asset management and its benefits? 

7: What are the consequences if AM is not understood? 

8: Are our tools and data up to the challenges we now face? 

9: How do we advance the narrative but also keep it focused? 

10: How did NSW move the story forward and what can we learn from its actions?

Your View

Q:  Are these ‘better’ questions?  Why or why not?

Q:  What other questions were being considered in this early perid of our history (1984-1993)?

Asking Questions

And, if you would like to know more about question asking, here are two great books

‘Questions are the Answer’ by Hal Gregersen, and

‘Curious’ by Ian Lewis (recommended by Lou Cripps after reading Ruth’s post)

The Platypus Diaries 1: Why Platypus?

Design by Matt Miles, AMCL, 2020

In writing Building an Asset Management Team, Lou Cripps and I looked at the skills an effective Asset Management team requires – both technical and business understanding, good grasp of front-line experience, both system and structured thinking, a longer term perspective, emotional intelligence and communication skills, embracing uncertainty and the tools to think about risk, integrity, and enough leadership ability to get others to buy into a new way of working.

Good infrastructure Asset Management requires a tricky combination of attributes. 

Lou came up with the image of the platypus, that is very rare and not to be found on most continents. 

Instead of searching for an amphibious, duck-billed, otter-footed, egg-laying, venomous mammal that locates prey through electroreception, it’s easier to provide all the qualities we need through a complementary team.

But we still love platypuses.  Watch out for more of them in the next ten days!

Value-Less Feelgood?

Hakuna Matata Platypus, from platypus.clothing

When I managed a small subsidiary company in the 1990s, I read a book by ex ICI chair John Harvey Jones on values. He said – and I am paraphrasing wildly – that any useful organisational value must have an opposite which would work in other circumstances, otherwise it’s so much mom-and-apple-pie stuff you can’t disagree with, but which does not motivate or drive very much, either.

When my team tried articulating our collective values, we all agreed on loyalty – which the marketing men said was not an appropriate marketing slogan, so I knew we were on to something. What could be (in other contexts) a useful opposite? Impartiality, for example. Loyalty was something we felt, and it also turned out to be something our clients could feel (and appreciate). Someone else could contribute impartiality.

As we face a puzzling current widespread refusal of North American infrastructure agencies to set clear SMART targets, we have wondered aloud if it’s because they don’t want anything they could fail at.  I begin to wonder if it’s worse than this, a lack of clear purpose or value at all.

I think I have just spotted the worst yet: a transportation agency that’s adopted ‘We Make People’s Lives Better’.   Their top leadership are very proud of it, since who doesn’t want to Make People’s Lives Better? The detail of what counts as better, which people, how we will do this – and what we do if one lot of people want something that would adversely affect another group of people? Well, don’t be negative, we can work that all out later. (And don’t even bring up all the critiques of naïve utilitarianism.)

Do we want a bus company to ‘make our lives better’, or do we just want them to concentrate on running an efficient and comfortable bus service?

For the moment, we asset managers can play the game of what, if anything, would not fit under this rhetoric. How could it even in theory rule out a bad option?

Yeah, it was a high-priced consultancy that facilitated this, but why does this even feel right to the executive, apart from being a meaningless feelgood statement?

Is it a triumph of the marketing men, or a complete dereliction of duty?

The Big Jobs Lie – Corollary 2 – Damage

Every infrastructure project causes damage – to society, to the environment. We know this. A new road means loss of green space. It disrupts existing commerce and communities. Steel and cement are toxic to the environment.  We accept this damage as a necessary cost of achieving a larger community good. 

For too long, we have accepted this ‘larger community good’ to be the short term jobs that are created. But as shown in the last two posts, not only is this jobs gain illusory, it causes its own damaging distortions in the economy.  Construction workers might gain, but other workers lose. 

So if we are to support a new infrastructure project it must be because of the greater, ongoing benefits that the infrastructure will provide – after it has been constructed.  For evidence based decision making, this is where we must seek our evidence.

How do we do this? What sort of evidence should we seek?

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